Across the Bay

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Cole Man

I have refrained from posting on Juan "I'm now also an expert on Lebanon" Cole's post on Lebanon's recent history with Syria, which a smart friend and analyst described as "the Idiot's guide to Lebanon, written by an idiot." However, seeing how it's popping up everywhere and being taken as a quick lesson in history, it was time to say something!

However, perhaps to the dismay of some, I won't actually address it all, or even the ridiculous ideological biases that underlie it. Instead, I'll just poke fun at some egregious errors by the vaunted Professor, who's an expert on everything it seems, and poke fun at how he dealt with one such error: by quietly editing it out!! Unfortunately for him, I saved the old post!

Mr. Informed claimed that the word "Levant" came from the French description of the hilly nature of Lebanon:

The abrupt rise of the land from the sea to the mountains is what led the French to refer to it as the Levant (i.e., "the rising (land)."

Juan apparently doesn't "command" French as well as he "commands" Arabic. Nice and quietly, he removed his false etymology without apologizing to his readers. The word of course has nothing to do with the hilly nature of Lebanon!! It refers to the "rising sun" hence its Arabic translation "al-mashriq" as I pointed out to a reader in a comment on the blog. I won't comment anymore on Cole's method, but I'll just say he has a history of it!

I won't dwell on the fact that he never mentioned the animosity of the PLO and the Lebanese Shiites (either before the Israeli invasion, or after, when Berri's Amal annihilated them in the war of the camps, 1985-88). Instead, he made a convenient leap: "The Maronite elite found the newly assertive Muslims of the south intolerable, and a war broke out between the Maronite party-militia, the Phalange (modeled on Franco's and Mussolini's Brown Shirts) and the PLO."

Reading this you wouldn't know about the PLO-Shiite tensions. In fact, you might think that they were on the same side vs. the Maronites who were against both!

The whole post is filled with slants against the Maronites (the bête noire of all Arabists and Third-Worldists. As a friend correctly characterized it, they and the Jews are seen in the same light: somehow both screwing Muslims and ruling what rightfully belongs to Muslims.) One funny instance was when Cole was talking about Fouad Chehab, and then made another set of leaps: "the Maronites erected a police state, with much power in the Dueuxieme Bureau or secret police. Since Washington had already overthrown the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953, and is said to have helped install the Baath in power in Iraq, it may well be that the Illiberal Age in the Middle East."

It's incredible to read this! First of all, Chehab was the compromise candidate requested by Nasser who was adamant to bring Chamoun down. Chehab, the former Army commander, was viewed with much suspicion by the political élite, including the Maronites. They saw him as resembling the "Arab order." There was, and continues to be, a deep suspicion and resistance to electing military men to power in Lebanon. The Syrian-backed Lahoud had to have the constitution amended for him to shift offices from Army commander to president. Indeed, Chehab was a proponent of a strong centralized state (although, he wasn't really like the other Arab military dictators, to be fair), which was the antithesis of what the Lebanese system was about. It was about minimal central authority, and more deferral of power to the communities. I.e., a form of decentralization, not too different from the decentralization sought in Iraq today, in order to avoid precisely an overly centralized state. So the jump from Chehab's policies to the Maronites in general falls in line with his bias, and not just overall ignorance.

The jaw-dropping part is how he then links that to Iran's Mosaddeg and the Iraqi Baath, and blaming it all on Washington! So, effectively, the ME "Illiberal age" (including all the horrors of the Iraqi Baath) is laid on Washington, and in a smaller degree, the Maronites! Incredible. This is not expertise. This is propaganda based on a mixture of ideology and ignorance.

But then comes the JuanColeogical material. Juan has been doing a solo act since 9/11 trying to tie the lone Lebanese hijacker Ziad Jarrah to Sharon's invasion of Lebanon in 82 in order to lay blame for 9/11, however indirect, at Sharon's feet. It was a truly marvelous acrobatic act. But, as I described Juan's MO once, his insane pseudo-psychologizing (or as Martin Kramer aptly put it, Psy-Cole-gizing. Scroll down to see entry.) has been repeated so much (only by him!) that now he presents it as established fact!

In 1982 the Israelis mounted an unprovoked invasion of Lebanon as Ariel Sharon sought to destroy the remnants of the weakened PLO in Beirut. He failed, but the war killed nearly 20,000 persons, about half of them innocent civilians. Ziad Jarrah had a long-term grudge about that. (Emphasis mine)

So Cole is not only an Iraq expert, and now apparently a Lebanon expert, he also communicates with the dead! He has penetrated deeply into the psyche of Ziad Jarrah, death notwithstanding, and pulled out the root cause of Jarrah's participation in 9/11!! Needless to say, there is no evidence whatsoever of that nonsense. In fact, if anything, Jarrah's life in Lebanon argues against it! But that's vintage Cole for you right there.

Some other stupid errors include counting ex-Argentinian president Carlos Menem Lebanese, when he's of Syrian descent. Another factual/ideological twist that highlights his post-colonial worldview/prism is found in another recent post on Lebanon:

For the last few days, I was watching the crowds assembled at Martyrs' Square in Beirut (a place significant in the anticolonial struggle against the French)...

It's just not happening with Cole, Lebanon, and that whole French thing! Even Robert Fisk, who doesn't have the greatest relationship with facts, got what Cole left out:

... the Lebanese camping out on Martyrs Square - or ’Liberation Square’ as they now call it, though the original name commemorates the hanging of Lebanese Muslims and Christians demanding independence from the Ottoman empire in 1915 and 1916 - ...

Of course, as Archbishop George Khodr recently pointed out that the "struggle" for independence from the French was really not a struggle in a military sense (like it was elsewhere in the ME) where "martyrs" died fighting for independence. As a matter of fact, only one Lebanese man died in that "struggle." Lebanon's independence from France was negotiated, peacefully! There were demonstrations (after the French imprisoned parliamentarians) but no martyrs in the "struggle against colonialism." That was, as Fisk pointed out, a commemoration of Ottoman brutality, when gallows were set up in Beirut and "nationalists" (Lebanese and Syrian, Muslim and Christian, we are always reminded) were hung by the Ottomans.

I know I've given tons of advice to Cole, but here's another one. Stick with the Shiite/Iraqi thing. You're barely floating there. Don't fall into the temptation of expanding into a "Lebanon expert." You're way over your head in those waters, and you'll have to keep quietly "editing out" stupidities, like that bit about the "Levant."